1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lord Steward

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LORD STEWARD, in England, an important official of the king’s household. He is always a member of the government, a peer and a privy councillor. Up to 1782, the office was one of considerable political importance and carried cabinet rank. The lord steward receives his appointment from the sovereign in person, and bears a white staff as the emblem and warrant of his authority. He is the first dignitary of the court. In the Statutes of Eltham he is called “the lord great master,” but in the Household Book of Queen Elizabeth “the lord steward,” as before and since. In an act of Henry VIII. (1539) “for placing of the lords,” he is described as “the grand master or lord steward of the king’s most honourable household.” He presides at the Board of Green Cloth.[1] In his department are the treasurer and comptroller of the household, who rank next to him. These officials are usually peers or the sons of peers and privy councillors. They sit at the Board of Green Cloth, carry white staves, and belong to the ministry. But the duties which in theory belong to the lord steward, treasurer and comptroller of the household are in practice performed by the master of the household, who is a permanent officer and resides in the palace. He is a white-staff officer and a member of the Board of Green Cloth but not of the ministry, and among other things he presides at the daily dinners of the suite in waiting on the sovereign. In his case history repeats itself. He is not named in the Black Book of Edward IV. or in the Statutes of Henry VIII., and is entered as “master of the household and clerk of the green cloth” in the Household Book of Queen Elizabeth. But he has superseded the lord steward of the household, as the lord steward of the household at one time superseded the lord high steward of England.

In the lord steward’s department are the officials of the Board of Green Cloth, the coroner (“coroner of the verge”), and paymaster of the household, and the officers of the almonry (see Almoner). Other offices in the department were those of the cofferer of the household, the treasurer of the chamber, and the paymaster of pensions, but these, with six clerks of the Board of Green Cloth, were abolished in 1782. The lord steward had formerly three courts besides the Board of Green Cloth under him. First, the lord steward’s court, superseded (1541) by—second—the Marshalsea court, a court of record having jurisdiction, both civil and criminal within the verge (the area within a radius of 12 m. from where the sovereign is resident), and originally held for the purpose of administering justice between the domestic servants of the sovereign, “that they might not be drawn into other courts and their service lost.” Its criminal jurisdiction had long fallen into disuse and its civil jurisdiction was abolished in 1849. Third, the palace court, created by letters patent in 1612 and renewed in 1665 with jurisdiction over all personal matters arising between parties within 12 m. of Whitehall (the jurisdiction of the Marshalsea court, the City of London, and Westminster Hall being excepted). It differed from the Marshalsea court in that it had no jurisdiction over the sovereign’s household nor were its suitors necessarily of the household. The privilege of practising before the palace court was limited to four counsel. It was abolished in 1849. The lord steward or his deputies formerly administered the oaths to the members of the House of Commons. In certain cases (messages from the sovereign under the sign-manual) “the lords with white staves” are the proper persons to bear communications between the sovereign and the houses of parliament.

Authorities.Statutes of Eltham; Household Book of Queen Elizabeth; Coke, Institutes; Reeves, History of the Law of England; Stephen, Commentaries on the Laws of England; Hatsell, Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons; May, Parliamentary Practice.

  1. A committee of the king’s household, consisting of the lord steward and his subordinates, charged with the duty of examining and passing all the accounts of the household. The board had also power to punish all offenders within the verge or jurisdiction of the palace, which extended in every direction for 200 yds. from the gates of the court yard. The name is derived from the green-covered table at which the transactions of the board were originally conducted.